Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Annus horribilis.

The year Princess Diana died in an auto accident was seen by Queen
Elizabeth as her annus horribilis,
her wretched year.  So too with
Barack Obama who seems to be at the low point of his administration with
everyone right and left either scolding him or expressing profound
disappointment.  There are the
critical columns from his natural supporters, the stories of how Axelrod and
Emmanuel seem to have lost their juice and even an Op Ed by Stanley Fish asking
if we miss George Bush.  I don’t
have a moments hesitation in saying I don’t miss Bush and the country is better
off without him and would have been far better off had he never taken
office.  I have greater difficulty
in dismissing the criticism of people like Frank Rich and Bob Herbert.  Their recent columns also illustrate
the dilemma in which Obama finds himself today.  Rich criticizes the President for doing too little about
healthcare; Herbert for doing too much. 
In Herbert’s case, he faults the administration for not paying sufficient
attention to jobs.

Lyndon Johnson famously said that the then Congressman Gerald Ford,
“couldn’t walk and chew gum at the same time”.  Senator Obama in his campaign rightly repeated often that Presidents must be able to more than one thing at a time.  Easier said than done.  I don’t think he had any idea of what
kind of multitasking lay ahead. 
All administrations are pitched curve balls, but few such wicked ones
and simultaneously.  Franklin
Roosevelt, history suggests, dealt effectively with two of our greatest, the
Depression and World War II, but they came along sequentially and we judge him
on more than twelve years in office. 
That’s not an excuse for Obama’s missteps, if one can fairly call them
that, but a simple statement of fact. 
He came into office with the ship of state grounded on a sandbar and a
year later it not only hasn’t budged, it seems more stuck than ever.  That’s hard for us to take, especially
for a society that accepts nothing less than instant gratification.

At this juncture we can all play the expected parlor game.  Would we have been better off with
McCain/Palin or perhaps with Secretary of State Clinton in the White
House?  More to the point would
either of them done better? 
McCain’s performance during the campaign, most notably in selecting
Palin, and since tells me that his Presidency might well have been a total
disaster.  Clinton, whom I did not
support, probably would have made a fine President, but I doubt would have
preformed better in the current circumstance.  If, as the Republicans claim, the American public has
rejected Obama's relatively modest healthcare reform, consider what might have
happened to the excellent and more far reaching proposals she made during the
campaign.  If the President is
faulted for having Larry Summers and others like him on his economic team,
would you expect different personnel from a President Clinton II?  I don’t think so.

Year one has been a disappointment and a frustration.  But it also reflects a much more
fundamental reality over which even a President who started out calling for not
blue or red but a UNITED States of America obviously has little control.  This is a bitterly divided country
where conversation has essentially ceased.  We talk at each other and whatever “discourse” may take
place, it is far removed in content from fact.  When Joe Wilson shouted out “you lie”, he was directing his
charge at the President, but it could have been at any one in the room or any
branch of government.  Elected
officials shade the truth every day, excusing their deception as the only way
to get things done.  Sadly, in that
they speak the absolute truth.  The
Chief Justice of the United States tells his confirmation inquisitors that he
is a man who believes in precedent, in settled law who sees his role as a neutral
umpire, not a legislator.  Right. 

And we, the American public — we shout
“yes we can” to a call for bringing about change and balk if it comes anywhere
near our doorstep.  We decry
deficits but squeal like injured animals with only the slightest talk of even
modest tax increases, any of which have to been hidden in some shaded truth
euphemism to have the remotest chance of passage.  We acquiesce to unwarranted wars because others — sons and
daughters from another neighborhood — pay the human price they exact.  We even avert our eyes when the
financial cost is conveniently left off the books until the resulting deficit is
so large that it can no longer be hidden and can be blamed on others.

Yes it’s been a terrible year for Barack Obama and he has to answer
for it.  It’s been a terrible year
for us and, in pointing our fingers at him, let’s not forget to look in the
mirror.  I don’t have to read a
poll to know that this country is headed in the wrong direction and it will
take more than a President, one for whom I continue to have much hope, to
change its course.  The question is
whether we have the will to do so.